We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
"Slums" were bulldozed and replaced with modern buildings. In retrospect, how naive but well-intentioned it was to believe that Bridgeport's poor would be lifted up by government housing?
Gov. Wilbur L. Cross, speaking at the ground breaking, talked of an ''expensive and beautiful village'' that would ''take boys and girls off the streets into playgrounds.'' Governor Cross said that ''good housing opened to sunlight and fresh air and ample play areas are the best preventives we have against disease and crime.''
It's easy for us to understand, now, that orderly, pleasing people and environments are not made from the outside appearances, but from the inside. As Insty frequently points out, orderly and pleasant environments are produced by orderly and pleasant people: good environments are not causes, but results. Signs, not causes. NYC's Hell's Kitchen is now expensive and fashionable Chelsea because the slums were never cleared. One of my in-laws grew up with an urban outhouse and it did him no harm at all - or to any of his many siblings. He remembers helping his baby sister get to it during snowstorms.
At first, many happily settled into this heavily-subsidized housing with the modern luxuries of hot water and indoor toilets. Industrial jobs disappeared, but people stayed. Over time, like so many later government housing projects, Father Panik became a no-go zone for police, dominated by drug gangs - so much so that the project became famously emblematic of Bridgeport's decline.
"It used to be beautiful here. You could go downtown and leave your house unlocked and you wouldn't have to worry about anything," said True Hamilton, 72, who has lived in the project for 15 years.
"Now, we're scared to even come out of the door at night. And when we hear gunshots, we hit the floor," she said.
"I've been here so long. I treat the people here like family and they treat me like family. I won't know how to live out there," said Kathleen Vila, who moved into the project with her family in 1943, when she was 9 months old.
When the project opened in 1941, it was a clean, modern complex touted as a solution to slum housing. Built to replace shanties for factory workers, it housed nearly 5,000 people in 46 three-story buildings spread over 40 acres.
Vila's poignant sentence "I won't know how to live out there" captures one of the problems: insulation from the realities of the world can create something akin to the crippling effects of "institutionalization." Designed as a park-like area for the working poor - at first, it was highly diverse in population - but the 1935 introduction of AFDC, it is argued, gradually converted the project into a ghetto of the dependency subculture dominated by a new era of single mothers and their ungoverned kids.
The Village has now been demolished (I wonder where the residents went). This YouTube contains some photos and memories of the place:
Father "Panic" Village - That place seemed to be on the local news three times per week.
By the way, no story of today's Bridgeport is complete without mention of the terrible apartment building collapse circa 1986. This was about a nine story building where the floors collapsed and pancaked from the top down while under construction. Many, many lives were lost in that one.
Great article about housing. May I suggest another alternative to government housing? It occurs to me that home ownership seems to correlate well with a sense of responsibility and that folks who own homes tend to keep them in good repair and mow the lawn and such. OK, never mind, they tried that and now those homes are sitting vacant. No money still means no money and no jobs means no jobs and no credit means no credit even if the government gives homes for free. OK then, how about this? Pass some new civil rights legislation. That's right, and the new legislation will empower needy people and disabled people and poor people and basically anyone, except white men over the age of 39, the right to sleep in your home. And raid the fridge. Just to keep it constitutional, the law should limit the amount of guests to a reasonable and fair number. This would fix many problems and save lots of tax dollars. I always had the feeling that those civil rights laws lacked a certain something. I was right, not only should every business owner not have the right to serve who he chooses, every home owner must shelter anyone in need. Fair is fair. It's kind of surprising that something as important as shelter and food was not included in the first batch of legislation. Isn't that more important than buying ice cream or getting a sip of water? By golly, I think it's even more important than forcing doctors to treat patients. But that's another story that will need to wait until businesses are compelled to provide jobs to the jobless. Always glad to help, you are welcome.
I did some growing up in a project contemporary with the Bridgeport place. Lucy Mallory Village (Springfield, MA) was known in the 'forties for tire-killing dirt streets sprinkled with sharp rocks. Rent for a microscopic three-BR quad unit was $40. Blue-collar families, many without cars, rode buses to school and work in nearby factories, now gone. Down the road after WW2, "Patriots' Corners" sprang up as tarpaper boxes for returning vets. Those are gone but the Village is still there. I wonder what it's like now . . .
I remember Father Panik Village well and may God bless any decent human being who had the misfortune of being housed there.
In Bridgeport crime was contained in the area by literally closing most of the bridges that connected that peninsula with the rest of Bridgeport with razor wire barriers. Residents in the area that used that exit of I-95 and East Main street to get to Stratford found it safer to run the traffic lights on E Main rather than stop. and that was back in the late 80's early 90's after a lot of the housing was torn down.